Sabina Kane is on the hunt. Her prey: Cain, the father of the vampire race and the one who murdered her family and her friends. Unfortunately, Cain is hunting Sabina, too.
The one man who holds the key to defeating Cain is, of course, Abel. A mage with secrets to spare and, hopefully, the power to match it. Unfortunately, for Sabina, he's in Rome and may not want to be found.
Sabina sets out for Italy with her friends, Giguhl and Adam Lazarus, to track down the only man who can get her the revenge she hungers for. But will he help her or oppose her? And just who is Abel, really? Worst of all, when Sabina figures out the goddess Lilith has a plan for her-she realizes this trip is getting deadlier by the minute. As they say: when in Rome-SURVIVE.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Wells, Jaye
OrbitCopyright © 2012 Wells, Jaye
All right reserved.
The St. Charles streetcar lumbered its way toward the Garden District like a mourner in a funeral procession. The rocking motion should have soothed me, but I was pretty sure I was beyond ever relaxing again.
Adam sat next me. His warm hand on my leg helped dispel some of the chill. He wore his trademark brown duster and heavy boots. The goatee and muscled frame added to his general air of menace, but the mage’s real danger lay in his ability to wield magical weapons.
In addition to being my partner, he was also my… boyfriend? No, too high school. Lover? Ugh. Consort? Meh.
I guess when it came down to it, he was just my mancy, plain and simple. And his presence had become as critical to my equilibrium as gravity or blood. So when he’d insisted on coming with me to Erron Zorn’s house, I hadn’t refused.
However, we’d opted to leave Giguhl behind at Madam Zenobia’s Voodoo Apothecary. Some situations just demanded a distinct lack of Mischief demon. Besides, staying back gave my minion a chance to mend fences with his friend Brooks, a Changeling who had stormed out of New York a few days earlier after a nasty argument with Giguhl about his lifestyle choices.
To say I wasn’t looking forward to our errand was the understatement of the millennium. Not only would I have to recount the shitty news of recent events in New York, but I also knew the favor I’d come to ask of Erron Zorn might get a door slammed in my face.
Adam squeezed my thigh, bringing my thoughts back to the present. “Whatever Erron says, try and keep your cool, okay?”
I nodded but didn’t agree verbally. Even though Adam’s sentiment was reasonable, I’d force Erron to go to Italy with us at gunpoint if I had to. Our mission was too critical to put up with squeamishness or attacks of conscience.
With each block’s progress toward Erron’s Garden District mansion, the more the memories of recent days weighed on my shoulders like a lead yoke. I picked up the moonstone amulet I wore around my neck. It had been given to me by my sister, Maisie, and advertised my position as the High Priestess of the Blood Moon. While the title was mostly symbolic, the amulet reminded me of better days when my twin was still alive. When lots of people were still alive, actually. I squeezed the round stone in my hand and closed my eyes, drawing on its strength.
The streetcar’s wheels hissed against their tracks, signaling a stop. Frowning, I squinted out the windows, trying to see how many more until we reached First. But the trolley hadn’t stopped at an intersection. Instead, it had squealed to a halt in the middle of the grassy median that held the tracks. I looked around to check if any of the other passengers had pulled the emergency stop cord.
The birthmark on my left shoulder suddenly itched and burned, like a warning. That’s when I realized all the other passengers were unnaturally still. Two old ladies near the front leaned toward each other with their mouths open. One had a hand raised in midair to make a point, but it didn’t move.
My gaze swiveled toward Adam. His head was bowed like a man at prayer. His hand was still on my thigh, but he wasn’t moving either.
I shook his shoulder. “Adam?” I whispered.
I waved a hand under his face.
“Shit.” I turned and looked at the other passengers—the middle-aged dude with his much-younger mistress, the gangly teen with headphones glued to his ears, even the streetcar operator—everyone, frozen. A quick glance outside the windows revealed that every car and body on the street had gone still as well. It was as if someone had hit a universal pause button.
So why was I still mobile?
The ominous quiet roared in my ears. My heart beat like a spastic metronome. I rose slowly, looking for any sign of life. Panic rose in my throat like a fist.
Whatever was happening was bad. Really, really bad. I had no idea what was going on, but I knew I needed to get out of the trolley and into the open. If an attack was coming—and I was pretty sure one was—I didn’t want to be trapped in the trolley.
But before I could make good on that plan, the doors opened with an ominous click-clack. A foot clad in a leather sandal appeared on the bottom step, followed by a male hand and the edge of a white sleeve. I reached back for the gun in my waistband. If this bastard thought I was easy prey, he was about to get a nasty surprise.
A mass of gray hair appeared next, on top of a face bearing a thick, white beard. With the help of a long staff, the intruder hefted himself up the rest of the steps. Finally, he turned toward me and smiled.
I frowned back and raised my gun. “Who the fuck are you?”
The old male sighed and waved a careless hand. My gun flew from my grasp and skittered down the aisle to land at his sandaled feet. “Your mundane weapons are useless here, Mixed-Blood.” His voice was deep and strong, but also weary like he had little patience for my resistance. “You mortal realm beings are so lazy. Not to mention rude.”
Instead of answering, I gathered my powers up into my solar plexus.
“Ah, ah, ah,” he said. “You could try it but I’m afraid you won’t like the results.” He waved his staff menacingly. “Besides, is that any way to treat someone who’s helped you?”
I crossed my arms, annoyed. “When have you helped me?”
Instead of answering, his face shifted and swirled until it morphed into the muzzle of a black dog. Seeing the familiar canine visage, I relaxed a fraction. “Well, shit, Asclepius, why didn’t you just tell me it was you to begin with?” I waved a hand in a circle to indicate the frozen tableau around us. “And why all the drama? You could have just appeared in my dreams or whatever.”
“Where’s the fun in that? Besides, it’s been too long since I visited the mortal realm.”
“So what do you want?”
“Don’t play coy.” His friendly expression hardened into something more menacing. “You know why I’m here.”
My stomach sank. “You’ve come to collect the favor I owe you.”
“Correction: I’ve come to collect the favors, plural.” He held up two fingers.
Shit, that’s right. I’d made two blood sacrifices to the god of healing in exchange for his help. Once when Rhea and I performed a dream incubation healing rite on my twin, Maisie, to help her regain her gift of prophecy, and the second when I went into the Liminal to save her from Cain.
Or tried to, anyway.
“Is there any way this can wait? I kind of have a lot on my plate right now.”
“No, it cannot wait. Your promise was to do my bidding at a time of my choosing. There are no rain checks.”
He stabbed the tip of his staff into the floor. “I am well aware of your… issues. You’re just going to have to figure out how to make it work. However, I do think you’ll find my errands dovetail nicely with your own mission of vengeance.”
My eyebrows slammed down. “How do you know about that?”
He shrugged. “Being a god has its privileges.” As far as explanations went, it was actually pretty good. After all, deities knew all sorts of things. But hearing that my quest to kill Cain had become supernatural gossip worried me.
“Okay, what are these errands, exactly?”
“Actually it was quite fortuitous that it was you who owes me. Your former profession makes you the perfect tool for my needs.”
In a former life that felt decades ago instead of mere months, I had been an assassin for the leaders of the vampire race. So, it didn’t take a genius to guess he wanted me to kill someone. No sense telling him I was out of the killing business. Especially since we’d both know it was a lie. “Who?”
“A vampire, she goes by the name Nyx. No last name.”
“Never heard of her.”
“I’m not surprised. She was last seen in Italy…” He let the word hang there like a juicy pint of blood on the end of a stick. I kept my expression impassive, but he saw right through it. “Which, I understand, is exactly where you’re headed.”
“Why do you want her dead?”
Asclepius pursed his lips and shot me an offended glare. “Normally I would smite you for your impertinence, but since this is our first deal together, I’ll overlook it.” He paused as if collecting his thoughts. “Like you, Nyx made a blood offering in exchange for my aid. But she isn’t as smart as you because she squelched on her promise.”
I had to admire the way he managed to weave a threat into his explanation. “Why can’t you just strike her down with a bolt of lightning or something?”
He tilted his head and shot me a pitying look. “I am a god of healing, Sabina. I cannot directly cause harm or death to anyone.”
I supposed that made some sort of sense, but clearly his moral code didn’t prevent him from extorting others to do his dirty work.
I pursed my lips and thought it over. “What’s the second favor?”
“Nyx’s request was for an item of power. A magical vest that protects the wearer from all weapons—magical and mundane. After you kill her, I want you to bring it to me.”
“Um, not to split hairs or anything, but why would she want a vest to protect her from harm? As a vampire, she’d already be immune to most weapons.”
“She had her reasons.”
“What does she look like?”
“She’s a redhead.”
I rolled my eyes. “You just described one hundred percent of the vampire population.” Because the race is descended from Cain, the biblical dude who was marked by the mortal deity with a shock of red hair, all vampires were gingers, too. “Are we talking deep auburn or strawberry blond?”
Asclepius pursed his lips and did a little wishy-washy head shake. “In between. More like cherry red.”
I nodded. That meant I would be dealing with a youngish vamp, maybe a century or so old. Good, she would be easier to kill. “Any other distinguishing characteristics?”
“She’s a hottie.”
Again, this described most of the race. Because of their predatory advantages, vampires were usually incredibly attractive, which lowered the inhibitions of their mortal prey.
At my dubious look, Asclepius sighed. “I know what you’re thinking, but this vamp is gorgeous. If I didn’t want her dead, I’d try to fuck her myself.”
I grimaced and decided to change the subject before I lost my patience completely. “Can you at least give me more specifics about where to find her? Italy isn’t exactly small.”
His eyes shifted left. “No.”
“You dare question a god?” he thundered.
I raised an eyebrow, sensing he was holding out on me.
He resisted my knowing glare for a few moments before he relented. “Fine. A cloaking ward was embedded in the chain mail so that she cannot be found by magical means.”
I laughed before I could help myself. “Wait, so you gave her an item that prevented you from finding her and then got pissed when she didn’t pay up? Way to screw yourself, dude.”
“Enough!” He took a menacing step forward.
I sobered instantly. “I apologize.” Time to get the conversation back to the big picture. “But if the vest protects her from all weapons, how exactly am I supposed to kill her?”
The god shrugged. “Not my concern.”
I bit my tongue to trap the angry curse that begged to be spoken. “How much time do I have to find her?” I said instead.
“Sabina, time is a fluid thing.” He raised his hands dismissively.
I supposed when you’re an ancient god, that might be true, but I lived in the mortal realm, where time was decidedly inflexible. I didn’t want to leave this detail open to interpretation so he could use it against me later.
“I’m gonna need something more specific.”
He sighed. “Fine. I’ll check in on you in a few days. By that time, I expect to hear you’ve put serious effort toward the task.”
In other words, I couldn’t just conveniently forget to track down this Nyx while I focused on my real goals. “Understood. I just ask that you don’t expect immediate success. Finding her alone could take several days.”
“I accept these terms.” He nodded and thunked his staff on the floor three times. I got the impression this was some sort of supernatural handshake. “So it is done. Gods speed, Sabina Kane.”
I expected the god to vanish in an intimidating display of fireworks; instead he simply opened the doors and exited like any mundane passenger. Only after he reached the sidewalk did he wave his staff and disappear. The instant he did, the world exploded into a kaleidoscope of movement, color, and sound. The trolley jerked into motion with a screech. The sudden movement knocked Adam forward off the bench, where he landed at my feet. He looked up at me with a sober expression.
“What the hell just happened?”
I sighed and held out a hand to help him up. “I’ll tell you in a sec. I need to get something first.”
While the mancy dusted himself off, I wound my way through the disoriented passengers to retrieve my gun from the floor. The old biddies nearby gasped when they saw the weapon. Luckily, the trolley was already slowing again as it approached the stop at First. I tucked the gun into my waistband and pushed Adam toward the door.
“Red?” he said, shooting me a tense glance over his shoulder.
I leaned in so no one else could hear. “Asclepius just threw a colossal wrench in our plans.”
The doors finally opened. Adam hopped into the street, turned to help me down, and without missing a beat said, “Of course he did.”
We headed up First into the heart of the Garden District. Rain dropped like tears from the drooping boughs of the stately oaks. Golden lights winked at us from a few windows set high in the mansion walls, but the late hour meant we had the night mostly to ourselves.
As we walked, I filled the mancy in on the god’s request. When I finished, he was surprisingly calm. “We’ll be in Italy anyway, so I don’t see that it will distract too much from our original mission,” he said in a reasonable tone. “Besides, assuming we even find this Nyx, it wouldn’t hurt to have a healing god on our side when shit goes down with Cain.”
“You’re probably right, but it’s a complication we don’t need.”
Adam put his arm around my shoulder and leaned into me. “Oh, what’s one more?” His tone was dry, teasing. I shot him a glare. “Listen, he said he just expects you to make an effort, right?”
“So we make a couple of inquiries when we get to Rome. As long as you show a good-faith effort, he can’t be pissed.”
Erron’s home was on the corner of Prytania and First. We’d visited the house a couple of times during our last trip to New Orleans, and it hadn’t changed much. Same Greek Revival architecture. Same stately columns and deep porch. Same wrought-iron fence standing guard at the sidewalk.
I paused at the gate, my sweaty palm slicking against the cold metal. My promise to find this Nyx chick would be worth nothing if I couldn’t convince Erron to help us in Rome. If he refused, we’d have no hope of tracking down the mysterious mage who went by the name “Abel” and knew more about Cain than any living being on the planet.
“Here we go,” I said. “Remind me again not to use force.”
Adam smiled. “You’ll do fine. Erron’s a reasonable guy.”
I shot Adam an ironic look. Reasonable wasn’t the first word that came to mind when I thought of Erron Zorn. The first time we’d met the lead singer of Necrospank 5000, he was hosting a midget orgy in his living room. “Reasonable,” I said. “Sure.”
Adam nudged me. “Just get it over with. Like pulling off a bandage.”
Taking a deep breath, I pushed open the gate. It creaked in protest, as if warning me to turn back. If I’d had the choice, I’d have done just that. But I didn’t have that luxury.
The minute Cain killed my sister, he’d cemented both our fates. I just hoped that this time, fate would be in my corner. But if it wasn’t, I prayed that I at least would be able to kill the bastard before I joined my sister in Irkalla.
As we got closer to the house, the muted strains of piano music reached my ears. At first I couldn’t place the melody. Not until I climbed the front steps and stood directly outside the front door.
Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” curled under the threshold and grabbed me by the throat. As beautiful as the song was, each mournful note felt like a punch in the gut. I glanced at Adam, whose face was cast in the porch’s shadows.
“Well,” he said, “at least his taste in music has improved.”
I tried to smile, but my mouth tightened into a grimace instead. “I was hoping to find him in a good mood, but now I’m not so sure.”
The last time I’d spoken to Erron, he’d been lecturing me about optimism. Telling me that Cain was a nonissue and I could relax my guard. As far as famous parting words went, those ranked right up there with “Hey, y’all, watch this.”
I paused, wondering if I should wait. Go sit on his front steps until the song was over, or better yet come back the next night. But part of me knew I was looking for an excuse to escape the music. The melodic reminder of the things I wanted to forget.
Adam nudged me with his elbow. “Clock’s ticking, Red.”
My hand pounded on the door before I was aware of instructing it to do so. In the house, a discordant note signaled the end of the song. I stood waiting, my heart thudding in my chest. Would he answer? Or was he praying the intruder at his door would just go away?
I pounded again, calling out, “Erron! It’s Sabina and Adam.”
The door flew open. No one stood on the other side, which meant Erron had used magic to open it. Figuring this was as close to a “come in” as we’d get, I stepped into the foyer. The entire house was dark, but I could feel the beating of another heart somewhere inside. Erron’s heart. The slow, methodical beat should have reassured me, but I was too on edge to relax.
“Erron?” I whispered. The dark made calling out seem sacrilegious.
“Here.” The voice had come from the living area, where I remembered seeing a piano on my last visit. The darkness wasn’t a challenge for my vampiric sight, but something about the whole scene had my instincts on red alert.
I exchanged a wary look with Adam and withdrew the gun from my waistband. My palms were clammy and my pulse thumped in my ears. Taking careful steps, I proceeded to the archway between us and the living room. I plastered my back to the wall, and Adam took a similar posture across the way. We went still, waiting, listening.
“Are you alone?” I finally said in a low tone.
A light flared to life in the other room. A cynical laugh reached me. “Always.”
I frowned and chanced a peek around the corner. Sure enough, Erron slumped on the bench in front of his Steinway. His back was to us, but the bend of his shoulders and the half-empty bottle of amber liquor told me he wasn’t in trouble or afraid. Erron Zorn, famous musician and Recreant mage, was dead drunk.
We entered the room slowly, scanning the periphery for signs of another occupant, just in case. But sure enough, Erron was alone. I relaxed my shoulders and lowered the gun. I didn’t holster it, though, didn’t trust the silence or the mood enough to relax completely.
Adam cleared his throat. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you it’s not healthy to drink alone?”
As an Adherent mage, Adam had always been a little tense around Erron. The rocker’s refusal to follow the Hekate Council’s laws made him a bit of a loose cannon in Adam’s eyes. Still, the two men also had a sort of fragile mutual respect thing going—the type that naturally builds when you’ve fought side by side.
Erron turned slowly on the bench to look at us. The last time I’d seen him, he’d been sweaty and exhausted after a show at the Jupiter Ballroom in Manhattan. But that didn’t compare to the haggard specter sitting in front of me.
His black hair was longer than when I’d last seen him, and the way it drooped limply around his face indicated he had shunned his normal regimen of styling products. Dark circles shadowed the skin under his gray eyes. Instead of the Johnny Cash wardrobe he usually favored, he wore a ratty T-shirt advertising a tour he’d done in Asia five years earlier and a pair of frayed jeans.
“Where’s Ziggy?” I asked, referring to the mage’s best friend and drummer.
Erron shrugged and played three discordant notes on the keyboard. “He quit the band. He and my stylist ran off to a private beach in the Caribbean.”
I frowned at him. “Wait, Ziggy ran off with Goldie?” Goldie Schwartz, in addition to being Erron’s stylist, was also a sassy midget with a predilection for kinky sex.
His nod was morose. “I guess they fell in love on tour. Zig said they’re talking about a Vegas wedding.”
“But why did he quit the band?” Adam asked.
“He said I’d lost my edge.” Erron laughed bitterly. “That having mortals in the band was ruining our original vision. I told him things were safer with the mortals, but he wouldn’t listen.”
Adam and I exchanged a look. Years earlier, Cain had decided to try and recruit Erron into his secret cabal of dark races troublemakers. When the Recreant refused, Cain had punished him by hurting his mage bandmates.
While it was tempting to talk to Erron about his drama, we had more pressing matters to discuss. Ones that tied in with his reasons for insisting on a mostly human band now.
He lifted the liquor bottle and toasted us. “Anyway, I’m not drinking alone anymore, thanks to you two.” He frowned like his brain was having trouble processing information. “Wait. Why are you here? I thought you were still in New York.”
I went still. “Zen didn’t call you?”
“No, why?” Erron looked me in the eye, his expression suddenly much more sober. “What happened?”
I motioned him to pass me the bottle. He handed it over with great reluctance, like I was stealing his security blanket. I took a long pull and savored the fire spreading down my throat and into my stomach. Adam shot me a look, but I ignored it. “You know the murders we discussed when you were in New York?” I didn’t wait for him to answer. I needed to get this out as quickly as possible. “After you left, there were two more: Tanith and Orpheus were poisoned at the peace treaty signing. One second they were toasting to peace and the next”—I snapped—“toast.”
“Particularly in Tanith’s case,” Adam added, referring to the way the vampire had exploded all over the unsigned treaty.
Erron grabbed the bottle back and took a bracing swig. “Who killed them?”
I hesitated. Putting the truth into words was harder than I expected. Luckily, Adam came to my rescue.
Erron dropped the bottle like it burned him. Glass shattered and alcohol pooled on the wooden floor. “What?”
“Turns out when your friend Abel imprisoned Cain physically, it didn’t occur to him that the bastard would be able to wreak havoc through his subconscious,” Adam continued. “He was controlling Maisie through the Liminal.”
Erron scrubbed his hand over his face like he was having trouble following. “What’s the Liminal?”
This was my area of expertise and was far less painful to explain. “It’s the plane between our existence and Irkalla. It’s also where our subconscious goes when we sleep. By the time we figured out Cain was manipulating Maisie through her dreams, it was too late. His hold on her was too strong. He made her perform the ritual to free him.” I swallowed the guilt lodged in my throat. “Then he… killed her.”
Erron blanched. “Maisie’s dead?”
I nodded because I couldn’t speak. Adam’s hand came up to rest on my back. Part of me wanted to resist the comfort because I worried it might make the dam burst open. But the other part of me was thankful I hadn’t come alone to talk to the Recreant. Hell, I was relieved Adam was around, period—after all, Maisie had tried to kill him, too.
Erron ran a hand through his hair and went to retrieve more liquor. As he uncapped the bottle, his hand shook. “So Cain’s free and you came here hoping I’d help you find him?”
“Yes,” Adam said. “We figure Abel is the best place to start. And since you’re the only one we know who’s actually talked to the guy…” Adam trailed off with a shrug.
“If Cain’s free from Abel’s spell, it’ll be a miracle if he’s still alive.”
I raised my chin with a bravado I barely felt. “Just so happens we’re in the market for one of those right now.” I refused to believe Abel was dead. It simply was not an option.
“That’s good because you’re going to need seven kinds of miracles to defeat Cain and survive. He can’t be killed, remember?”
After he had marked Cain with red hair for the sin of killing his brother—the original Abel—the mortal god, Elohim, declared that anyone who killed Cain would reap the punishment sevenfold. Therefore, killing Cain was a death sentence for you and all your loved ones.
When Adam and I didn’t respond, Erron started pacing and continued. “I know you’re hurting right now. And I know you think revenge is the only thing that will stop the pain. But as your friend, I’m asking you not to pursue this.”
I jerked as if he’d struck me. “How can you say that? You know I can’t just walk away.”
“Sabina”—he jabbed a finger toward me—“if you go to Italy, you will lose and Cain will win. Period.” He crossed his arms. “You want my advice? Run and keep running until you find a remote cave far from civilization. Take the Adherent and your demon with you, too, because he’ll go after them next. It’s the only way you’ll all survive.”
“I’d rather die than run.”
“Brave words are easy when you’re safe. Have you considered that Cain’s luring you into a trap?”
“I know he is. Just before he killed Maisie, he told me he wants me to use my Chthonic magic to help him access Irkalla. I think he’s planning on kidnapping Lilith.”
In addition to being the man who invented murder, Cain was also the psycho ex-boyfriend of the Great Mother. They’d created the vampire race together before Lilith kicked him to the curb to marry the demon Asmodeus and become the Queen of Irkalla. Cain was convinced he and Lilith belonged together, and most of his plots revolved around getting her back. But according to the prophecies of the Praescarium Lilitu, if any of the dark races gained power over the other races, Lilith would return to the mortal realm and kill us all. Every werewolf, faery, vampire, and mage would die. Cain’s obsession would have been sad and desperate if succeeding didn’t mean the destruction of all the dark races.
“Can you do that?” Erron asked. “Access Irkalla?”
I shrugged. “Rhea seems to think it’s possible.” Rhea was Adam’s aunt and the interim leader of the mage race. She’d also been my magical mentor.
“And you’re still planning on going after him? That’s just what he wants!”
“Which is why we need to find Abel,” Adam pointed out. “You said yourself he knows Cain better than anyone. He figured out how to trap the bastard once. Maybe he can help us find a new way to stop Cain before he destroys us all.”
“What if Abel is dead? What then?”
I shrugged. “Then I’ll try something else. But I’m going to Italy with or without your help. I just thought you…” I trailed off, letting the words float there like chum in water.
As expected, Erron attacked the bait like a hungry shark. “You just thought I’d what?”
“I just thought you of all beings would want to help stop Cain once and for all. This is your chance to make him pay for what he did to Ziggy and your old band.”
Ziggy had been deafened after a vicious attack by Cain several years earlier. But the drummer had gotten off easy. He’d lost only his hearing; the rest of Erron’s bandmates lost their lives.
Air escaped the Recreant’s lungs in a rush. “You’re playing dirty.”
“I don’t have the luxury of playing this clean, Erron. Now, are you going to help us find Abel or are you going to bury your face in a bottle of whisky until it’s time to kiss your ass good-bye?”
Erron took a deep breath, as if bracing himself for the inevitable. “All right. I’ll help you find Abel. That’s all I’m willing to promise right now.”
I nodded. “Fair enough.”
He stood slowly, like an old man instead of a powerful magical being. “You want to head out tonight, I assume?”
“I have some business to take care of first. We’ll leave tomorrow. What’s the time difference between New Orleans and Italy?”
He pursed his lips. “Seven hours?”
Adam nodded. “We’ll want to get there as close to dusk as possible so we can hit the ground running. Meet us at Zen’s by ten and we’ll head out.”
Erron looked me in the eye. “Are you ready for this?” By that, he didn’t mean the interspatial travel to Rome. He meant facing the tough choices I’d need to make to kill an unkillable foe. He meant, was I ready to sell my soul to get revenge?
My jaw clenched. “No, but I’m doing it anyway.”
That seemed to satisfy him. He raised the new bottle. “To justice, then.”
I grabbed the liquor and took a long, searing swallow. As heat spread down to my stomach, fortifying my resolve, I toasted him. “No, Erron, to revenge.”
By the time Adam and I made it back to the French Quarter, it was close to midnight. All the bars and restaurants in the area were bustling with people. Mardi Gras was still a couple of weeks away, but the early parties filled the streets with revelers.
However, despite the festive atmosphere and bustling streets, Lagniappe’s doors were locked and every light extinguished. A weathered sign on the window advertised the bar’s infamous Gender Bender Drag Night, which happened every Wednesday. It was Thursday, but the place still should have been packed. Or rather, it would have been if the bar’s owner weren’t stuck in New York.
Lagniappe belonged to our werewolf friend Mackenzie Romulus. Last time I’d seen Mac, she was being forced to mate to a werewolf male who’d been chosen for her by her uncle, the Alpha of New York. The entire situation was sad and not a little bit infuriating, but when I’d last spoken to her, she was resigned to carry out her uncle’s will.
“I assumed Mac would have left someone in charge when she left for New York,” Adam said. He had his hands cupped against the glass, peering inside for some sign of life.
“She probably thought she and Georgia would be back in a few days.”
Georgia was Mac’s vampire ex-girlfriend. The one who got royally screwed when Mac proved too weak to stand up to her pack. The last time I’d seen Georgia, she’d been pretty pissed at me. I knew she didn’t really blame me for what happened between her and Mac, but I certainly hadn’t helped matters when I’d publicly challenged Mac’s Alpha for being such a stubborn ass. The confrontation had resulted in Michael Romulus stepping up the date of Mac’s mating ceremony. After she’d told me off, Georgia had returned to New Orleans to lick her wounds.
Adam sighed and pulled away from the window. “You want to go back to Zen’s and see if she knows where we can find Georgia?”
I nodded. “I suppose I was being overly optimistic thinking she’d would be here.”
Adam and I headed toward the street. But just before I stepped off the curb, I glanced back at the building. A light from one of the upper stories caught my eye.
“Hold on,” I said, pointing. “Isn’t that Mac’s apartment?”
Adam counted up and over, his lips pursed. “I think so.”
I shot him a speculative glance. “Surely Georgia’s not that masochistic.”
Adam shrugged. “She’s been back in New Orleans for only a few days. Maybe she hasn’t had time to find a new place.”
I blew out a breath. “Okay, you’d better stay out here.”
Adam frowned. “Why?”
“I have a feeling that whatever state of mind she’s in will only get worse when she sees this letter.” I held up the envelope Mac had given me. She had made me promise to deliver it to Georgia personally. “Probably she’d appreciate not having an audience.”
“Gotcha.” He placed a heavy hand on my shoulder. “Just try to be sensitive, okay?”
I shot him an offended glance. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“No offense, Red, but you’re not exactly comfortable around vulnerability. You tend to get a tad… snappish.”
I pursed my lips and considered arguing. However, he had a decent point. “Maybe we should have brought Giguhl along after all. He’s much better at this kind of stuff.”
Adam squeezed my shoulder. “You’ll do fine.” I wasn’t sure which of us he was trying to reassure. Regardless, I took a deep breath and braced myself to face the brokenhearted vampire.
“If she tries to cry on my shoulder, I’m out of there.”
His lips quirked. “Don’t worry. After the fight you guys had, she’s more likely to punch you.”
Now that I could definitely handle. Fists were always preferable to tears, in my book.
I left Adam at the sidewalk and beelined for the steel door on the side of the building. In addition to the apartment she’d shared with Georgia, Mac also rented rooms to a few drag queens employed by the club. If I was wrong and Georgia wasn’t up there, I’d at least have the chance to ask some of the other tenants if they’d seen her.
As I climbed the stairs to the correct floor, I tried to figure out what I’d say to the vampire. But how exactly does one offer condolences in that kind of situation? “Sorry your werewolf lover was forced to marry a dude against her will” didn’t sound quite right.
I shook my head. Honestly, there were no words that could erase Georgia’s heartache. The envelope crinkled inside my pocket. I hoped that whatever she’d written there would help Georgia move on.
When I reached the top of the stairs, the mournful strains of Joni Mitchell spilled out into the hallway from beneath the red door of Mac’s apartment. Guess I’d found the right place after all.
I blew out a breath, hoping to dispel the nerves jumping around in my gut. “Here goes nothing.” I rapped a knuckle on the door.
“Go away!” The voice rose over Joni’s melancholy singing.
I knocked again, hoping persistence would piss Georgia off enough to open the door. I didn’t want to tell her it was me in case she was still holding a grudge.
“I said”—the door flew open—“fuck off!” Georgia’s fangs flashed with threat but her eyes were bloodshot from recent tears. Her red hair hung limply around her pale face, hinting that she hadn’t bathed in days.
“Hi,” I said lamely.
Georgia’s posture relaxed a fraction but her fangs didn’t recede. “You.” Funny how one little word, three little letters, can sound so hateful.
“Georgia, I know you’re still mad, but I—”
The door slammed in my face with a loud crash.
I sighed and pounded again. “I need to talk to you.”
Pound, pound. “Open the door. Please.”
“Haven’t you done enough already?” she ranted. “Now you have to come here and bother me? I just want to be left alone!”
Something broke inside me. I didn’t have time for this shit. I didn’t have time to play intermediary for the lovelorn when my own life was so fucked up. Didn’t deserve to be yelled at when I was nursing my own heartache. I’d promised Mac I’d deliver her message and that’s just what I’d do.
I removed the envelope from my coat pocket. Held it up under the light so Georgia could see it through the peephole. “I have a message for you.”
She laughed bitterly. “Oh, I’m sure.”
“It’s from Mac.”
“You want to read it? Fine. You want to burn it? That’s fine, too. I’m just the messenger. Do what you want.” I wedged the envelope into the doorjamb. “I’m leaving for Italy tomorrow morning. If you want to talk about this, you’ll have to find me before then.”
She snorted. “Not likely.”
No doubt she thought my comment was a casual one. But it wasn’t. The truth was if Georgia didn’t come find me before I left, chances were good she’d never see me again.
I put my hand on the door. “Have a good life, Georgia.”
With that, I turned and walked away. The silence behind me weighed on my back. I could practically feel her arguing with herself through the door. I don’t know if those locks clicked open before I made it out of the building, but Georgia didn’t run after me. Which, I decided as I made my way back outside to Adam, was probably a good thing. I’d always sucked at good-byes.
When Adam and I returned to Zen’s shop, everyone was gathered in the sitting room on the second floor. Zen and Brooks had closed the shop for the evening and convened over steaming mugs of chicory coffee doctored up with a little whisky.
“How’d it go?” Giguhl jumped up like a tightly wound spring. With his seven-foot-tall frame, black horns, and green-scaled skin, he should have been intimidating to most beings. But the too-short sweatpants and concerned expression on his face ruined the effect.
“Erron’s in,” I said.
The demon frowned. “Why do I sense there’s a but?”
I dropped into a chair and smiled at Zen when she brought me a mug. “Well, first, he’s super reluctant. Said we’d be better off hiding in a remote cave.”
Giguhl sniffed. “Please. We’re not cowards.”
I smiled at my best friend.
“Besides, between the no porn and dealing with your two whiny asses, I’d eat you both within a week,” he continued.
“But you’d regret it,” Brooks said. “Sabina alone would give you heartburn for a decade.”
“It’s true.” Giguhl nodded.
Brooks’s lips formed into a flirty pucker. “Now Adam, on the other hand, would be a delicious snack.”
“I’m not sure whether to feel flattered or afraid,” Adam responded.
Brooks winked at the mancy. “Both.”
The Changeling caught my eye and winked. I smiled back. “I have to say, it’s good to have you back, Brooks. You seem… like yourself again.”
By that I wasn’t just referring to the fact that he hadn’t dressed in a wig and sequined gown. Although it was nice to see him in jeans and black-framed hipster glasses and with a bald head again, I was referring to his flirty, fun personality, which had disappeared a few months earlier after a violent beating had robbed him of his confidence.
He smiled sheepishly. “Thanks, Sabina. Sorry if I was a little cranky in New York.”
When he’d moved to the Big Apple to launch his singing career, Brooks had adopted his female drag persona full-time, going so far as insisting we call “her” Pussy Willow. But he’d taken the diva routine a bit too far. It’d taken everything in me not to drop-kick the drama queen into the Hudson.
“A little?” Giguhl said. “Bitch, please. You turned into Joan Crawford with PMS there for a while.”
The Changeling shot the demon a mock-serious scowl. “Anyway”—he performed an impressive neck swivel—“Zen helped me realize that I was hiding my pain behind all the makeup and fabulous accessories. She encouraged me to let my Brooks flag fly.” He executed a Z-shaped snap through the air.
“And by that he means, I threatened to kick his ass to the curb if he didn’t stop throwing diva fits in my store.”
Brooks pursed him lips. “That too.”
“Either way,” Giguhl said, “Sabina’s right. We all missed you.”
“I missed you, too, Gigi,” Brooks said quietly.
It was good to see the demon and the faery had made amends. Back in New York, Giguhl had grown as tired of Pussy Willow’s attitude as the rest of us and had called her on it, which resulted in a nasty argument. But it looked like they’d dealt with their issues and were back to being BFFs.
“When do you head to Rome?” Zen asked me.
“Good idea.” She nodded approvingly. “Give you guys a chance to catch up on your rest. Sounds like you’ll need it. In the meantime, I’m going to whip up some amulets and potions for you guys to take with you.”
“Thanks, Zen,” I said.
Brooks rose. “Giguhl and I will get started on getting the ingredients together.”
The demon shot the fae a look. “We will?”
Brooks nodded in the exaggerated way of someone with mischief on their minds. Giguhl’s eyes widened. “We will!”
The pair ran off without another word. Adam, Zen, and I exchanged worried glances. “How much trouble can they get into, really?” Zen said, sounding unsure.
I sighed. “We’ll go check on them on our way up.” I leaned back. “In the meantime, I need you to promise me something.”
Zen’s head tilted. “Sure, anything.”
“Can you check on Georgia? I tried to talk to her tonight but she wouldn’t even open her door.”
Zen sighed and leaned back. “Yes, she’s been avoiding all of us.”
Adam leaned forward. “Even Brooks?”
The voodoo priestess nodded. “Yeah. The minute they got back to New Orleans, she just kind of retreated into herself. Living in that apartment probably isn’t helping matters since she’s surrounded by memories of Mac.”
“I went to give her a message Mac asked me to deliver. I’m not sure if it will help or make things worse.”
Zen nodded. “I’ll check on her. The sooner she accepts that Mac isn’t coming back, the easier it will be for her to move on.”
My stomach cramped. I didn’t want to argue with Zen, but I wasn’t sure she was right. If Adam had been taken from me like that, it would take a hell of a lot more than a few weeks to get over it. Heartbreak takes on a whole new dimension when you’re immortal. But I couldn’t expect Zen—a human—to understand that. “Yes, well, I appreciate it.”
Adam clapped his hands on his thighs. “On that note, I’m exhausted.”
I nodded. “Me too. Getting up in the morning is going to be harsh.”
Unlike full-blooded vampires, I could actually be in the sun without dying, but the UV rays depleted my energy quickly. That meant we’d have to move fast in the morning to get out of town and into Italy’s later time zone before the sun sapped my strength.
“Check on Brooks and Giguhl on your way up, please. I need to do a quick thing here.” She motioned to the altar on the other side of the room. As usual, it was covered with an assortment of liquor bottles, old bones, scraps of cloth, and old keys—offerings to the Catholic saints and voodoo gods she worshiped. She didn’t say as much, but I assumed she wanted to hang back to make an offering to them so they’d watch over us.
I nodded. “Okay. Thanks, Zen.”
“Sleep well, my friends.” She smiled and held my gaze. “You’re going to need it.”
After we’d made our way into the hall, Adam took my hand and squeezed. I forced a wan smile at him. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy his touch. I just had so much on my mind, I felt like I was going a little crazy.
“Hey,” he said. “What’s going on in that head of yours?”
I shook my head, but I knew he wouldn’t let me get away without an explanation. “Honestly? Ever since I left Georgia’s door, I’ve thinking about our fight—fights—in New York. How close we were to…” I paused, unable to put into words how afraid I’d been of losing him. Before Adam and I were officially together, I’d been on a sort of self-sabotage kick that included sleeping with an ex-boyfriend. When the truth finally came out, Adam was more hurt by the betrayal of keeping the secret than the act itself. And I’d reacted by accusing him of not being able to love all of me—vampire nature and all. In short, it was a total painful clusterfuck.
“I don’t ever want to go through a fight like that again,” I said.
He blew out a breath and pulled me in for a hug. “Oh that,” he said.
I looked up. “What did you think I was going to say?”
He shot me a sidelong look. I tensed. Begged him with my eyes not to bring up my sister. I just… couldn’t. Not yet. That particular wound was too fresh and raw. He opened his mouth but thought better of whatever he was going to say. “Anyway,” he said finally, “I don’t want to go through that again either. I think I did some permanent damage to my liver.”
I pulled back. “Really? You too?” I asked, thinking of the night Giguhl and I had drowned our sorrows in a gallon of ice cream and a bottle of tequila.
“When I thought I’d lost you, I was a wreck. That night Mac got mated and we had our huge fight?” I nodded, remembering. “I killed two bottles of whisky. Luckily, I’d locked myself in the room or gods only knew what I’d have done.”
I frowned at him. I had no idea he’d been that bad off. Although, given my own pain, I guess I should have known he’d have been hurting, too. I wrapped my arms around him and squeezed. “I was terrified I’d lost you.”
“Me too,” he whispered. “But we’re together now.”
I kept my face on his chest, not able to look him in the eye. “But what if—”
“Shhh,” he said. “Look, we’ve got issues. We both know that. And guaranteed we’ll fight again. But all we can do is make sure we’re honest with each other from here out.” He pulled back and made me look up at him. “Right?”
I swallowed. It had been my own lack of honesty that had forced our issues to the surface. But I’d learned my lesson in spades. “Right.”
“Good.” He planted a quick kiss on my lips. “You know what?”
I smiled up into his handsome face. “What?”
“There is a silver lining to fighting every now and then.”
“Oh yeah? What’s that?”
He waggled his eyebrows suggestively. “Makeup sex.”
I pursed my lips like I was debating the merits of him claim. “Speaking of, we never—”
Adam ignored the sound and pulled me closer. “You were saying?”
“I was saying that we never—”
Bang, bang, bang!
Adam put his forehead against mine and closed his eyes. “I don’t suppose we can just ignore that?”
I laughed and patted his cheek. “Right, because how much trouble can a Mischief demon and a Changeling drag queen get into?”
“Shit,” he breathed. “All right, but remember what you were about to say because I’m planning on having a very long, slow, deep discussion about it later.”
“Ouch!” The high-pitched yelp was followed by the kind of shushing sound that accompanied covert shenanigans.
“It’s a deal,” I said to Adam. “Now let’s go make sure those two aren’t about to blow up the joint.”
A few moments later, we pushed open the door to Zen’s workroom. The demon and the Changeling had their heads together like conspirators. When we walked in they both shot up and their expressions instantly turned guilty.
Adam crossed his arms. “What’s going on?”
“Nothing,” Brooks squeaked.
I narrowed my eyes at the seven-foot-tall demon, who would not look at me. “Giguhl?”
He pursed his lips and shook his head.
“Don’t make me make it a command,” I warned. Since the demon was my minion, I could force him to tell me anything or do anything if I made it a direct order. But I tried not to abuse that power since he was also my friend.
The demon’s massive shoulders slumped and he shot an apologetic look at Brooks. “We’re making a voodoo doll of Cain.”
“What?” Adam asked. He shot toward the table to inspect their work. “How far are you into the ritual?” he demanded, all business.
“We were putting finishing touches on his ensemble.” As he spoke, Brooks used glue to attach rhinestones to Cain’s jacket. They’d also hot-glued red yarn to the doll’s head and used two green sequins for the eyes. Apparently, the Changeling believed the mastermind behind all our suffering looked a lot like vampire Elvis, the later years.
Zen walked in and froze when she saw the guilty expressions. “What’s going on?” Her tone was part suspicious and part terrified of finding out what had us all tense.
“Um,” Brooks said, cringing, “Giguhl and I were sort of makingavoodoodoll.”
Zen looked at him with laserlike intensity. “Holy Loa, what in the world were you thinking, child? Please tell me you haven’t used the goofer dust yet.”
Giguhl nudged a small vial with his claw. “You mean this?”
Brooks groaned in a way that told me he’d been hoping to hide that part from Zen.
“We haven’t used it yet,” he rushed to add.
Zen rounded on her assistant. “You know I don’t allow red magic on my property. Besides, you’re not fully trained in the voodoo arts.”
The fae crossed his arms. “I’ve helped you make dolls lots of times. Besides, it’s not really red magic.”
“Well, it sure as hell ain’t white magic.” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Evil intentions aren’t something you do for the heck of it. You know that. The Law of Three won’t listen to excuses. I don’t want that kind of karma.”
“Don’t worry,” Giguhl said. “Brooks said he figured out how to avoid the Law of Three altogether.”
Zen frowned and pulled back to get a good look at her assistant. “How?”
Brooks took a deep breath and prepared to make his case. “I’m doing a banishment and equalizer spell,” he began. “I figured if we ask Ogun to intercede on our behalf, then the Law of Three wouldn’t apply.”
I held up a hand. “Can someone translate that for the voodoo challenged?”
Zen sighed. “It’s a spell that asks the holy one to protect you and also punish one who’s done you wrong. The Law of Three dictates that whatever magical energy you put out into the universe will return threefold. Thus, if you curse someone, you’re inviting three times bad karma to your door. But in this case, Brooks is invoking the warrior god Ogun to do the dirty work so he won’t experience any bad karma after.”
“And what’s gopher dust, exactly?” I asked.
“Goofer dust, Sabina,” Adam corrected.
Ever since our brief stint in New Orleans, Adam had started a casual study of basic voodoo in his spare time. His interest was merely academic, though. To a mage with inherent magic, the human practices were merely a curiosity.
I nodded impatiently. “Okay, what’s goofer dust?”
“It’s used in spells meant to cause suffering. There’s lots of stuff in it, but the two main ingredients are snake skin and graveyard dirt.”
“Sounds like a Chthonic spell,” I said, referring to my own magical specialty.
In mage terms, Chthonic magic dealt with primordial powers like sex and death. Powers that were strongest in deathy places, like graveyards. In addition, snakes were powerful Chthonic symbols.
“Similar.” Zen nodded. “Brooks is basically asking a god to use death magic on Cain.”
“Awesome, right?” Giguhl said.
I sighed. “Guys, I appreciate your support, but Cain is my problem.”
Giguhl pursed his lips. “Correction: Cain is our problem. All of us.”
I grimaced. He was right, of course. Especially since, as my minion, he kind of had to go to Italy since that’s where I was headed.
“If we do this spell, you guys won’t need to go anywhere,” Brooks said. “You can stay here, where it’s safe.”
I exchanged a look with Adam. While the demon’s and the faery’s hearts were in the right place, their methods could spell disaster for all of us. “But if the spell backfires, it would put all of us in danger,” I said.
“What do you mean?” Zen said.
“Whoever kills Cain will reap the punishment sevenfold,” Adam explained. “That means if Brooks’s plan to ask Ogun to take the heat for the death doesn’t work, he and six of his nearest and dearest will die, which I assume includes you, Zen, as well as this guy.” He jerked a thumb toward Giguhl.
“But Ogun will absorb the karmic fallout,” Brooks said. “Right, Zen?”
The voodooienne chewed her bottom lip, obviously weighing her words. “I’m not sure Brooks has enough experience to control Ogun’s powers to ensure the spell will work… but I do.”
Brooks gasped. “You’ll do it?”
Zen shrugged. “Even though I don’t normally approve of this sort of magic, some situations require some moral flexibility. If asking Ogun to intercede will protect you guys, I’ll do it.”
I held up my hands to stall Brooks’s victory dance and spoke to Zen. “Trust me, the price you’ll have to pay to the god to do this for you will be steeper than you’re willing to pay. I speak from experience.” I couldn’t imagine what a war god would demand in exchange for killing Cain, but I had a feeling it would be a hundred times worse than Asclepius’s demands.
Zen went still at my comment and Giguhl’s eyes narrowed, like he was about to demand an explanation. I rushed ahead to avoid muddying the conversation with a rehash of the Asclepius situation.
“Look, guys, we appreciate why you’re trying to do this. Really. But it’s not going to fix anything. We have a plan and we’re going to manage the risk as much as possible.”
“She’s right,” Adam said. “If we thought magic would solve this problem, we would have already tried it. Trust me.”
Giguhl sighed. “They might be right, Brooks.”
“Wait a second,” the Changeling said. “The rule about killing Cain applies to you, too, right? So we could all die anyway.”
I hesitated. “Yeah.”
“But that’s why we’re going to Italy,” Adam jumped in to explain. “According to Erron, there’s a mage there who knows Cain better than anyone. We’re hoping Abel can help us find a way to stop him without any of us dying.”
Brooks’s shoulders slumped. “Well, shit.”
Giguhl shot his friend a disappointed frown. “Sorry, dude. We tried.”
Brooks picked up the gaudy doll and looked it over. “I just hate for this to go to waste. It’s some of my best work.” He fingered the sequins longingly.
Zen patted the faery on the shoulder. “Actually, we might be able to use it after all.”
Brooks and Giguhl perked up. “Really?” they said in unison.
She nodded. “Anybody in the mood to craft a good vexing spell?”
Brooks rubbed his hands together. “Now you’re talking.”
“And while we’re at it, we’ll whip up some protection amulets for the three of you.”
“Hold on,” I asked in a wary tone. “What exactly does a vexing spell do?” I trusted Zen, but I didn’t want to take any chances on complicating our situation any more than it already was.
“The one I have in mind causes a severe case of anal itching.” While Adam and I blinked in shock, she turned and smirked at Giguhl and Brooks. “You in?”
The demon and the faery faced each other with wicked grins before turning back to Zen and announcing in unison, “Abso-fucking-lutely!”
After we escaped the voodoo party, Adam and I closed ourselves in the attic apartment. He locked the door behind us with a decisive flick of his wrist. Judging from the heat the mancy was shooting at me, sleep was the last thing on his mind.
“So”—he began sidling toward me—“you were saying something about makeup sex?”
I laughed out loud. Leave it to a male to skip a postmortem about aborted voodoo rituals and the impending suicide mission everyone thought we were about to undertake when sex was on the line. Although, now that I thought about it, with everything going on maybe it was the perfect excuse to grab the time we had by the reins and ride it for all it was worth.
I crooked my finger at him. “Come closer and I’ll tell you.”
Two hours later, I fell onto the mattress. Sweat soaked my skin and my muscles felt like gelatin.
“Am I forgiven?” Adam said, nipping at my shoulder.
Lethargy pulled at me. The physical exertion of our lovemaking combined with the emotional stress of the last few days left me feeling hollow and dried out. Sex with Adam had ignited my bloodlust and my fangs throbbed hotly against my gums. I needed blood more than I needed air, but I’d be damned if I let Adam know that. I didn’t want to ruin our postmakeup-sex bliss with a reminder of why we’d fought in the first place.
So, when I smiled at my mage, I did so with a closed mouth. And when I spoke, I turned my head slightly, so he wouldn’t catch the telltale flash of fang. “If this is what happens after we fight, I might have to piss you off more often.”
Gentle fingers grasped my chin and turned my face toward him. I clamped my lips closed, but he ran a gentle thumb across them. No way he missed the telling bumps. “You need blood.”
My tongue felt like sandpaper in my mouth. My stomach cramped. I considered lying, but what was the use? “You’re not wrong,” I said carefully.
Adam leaned down and placed a kiss on my parched lips. He leaned back a fraction to look in my eyes. I could feel the indecision coming off him in hot waves. Before he could say anything, I decided to let him off the hook. “Don’t worry about it. I’ll just hit the butcher shop tomorrow or something. I’ll be fine.”
He tilted his head and gave me a dubious scowl. “Liar.”
I sighed. “Adam, it’s fine. Really. I don’t expect you to get over your issues about being my blood source this fast. I know it’s not easy for you.” As I raised a hand to cup his cheek, his eyes flicked to my fingers, where a consistent tremor gave away my lie.
“Red, I’m not saying that I’m looking to be your convenient blood dispenser, but I’d be a real bastard to deny you when you’re so clearly in need. Let me help you.”
My fangs sprang fully from my gums and my core spasmed with an aftershock. Still, I considered refusing. The last time I’d fed from Adam, we’d had that huge fight and our relationship barely survived it. But his expression was so open, so earnest. He was offering himself despite his misgivings. It felt… well, not right, exactly, but like progress.
“You’re sure?” I rasped.
He nodded. “I’m sure about you. About us. I trust you and I love you. Let me help.”
My eyes stung. A small, petty voice deep inside told me I didn’t deserve him. Another voice, this one louder, told that one to shut the hell up. This is what couples did, after all—helped each other. Healed each other’s wounds.
Besides, his sweet blood called to me.
“Okay.” I swallowed nervously, my throat clicking. “I promise I’ll only take what I need.”
He looked me in the eye and said, “I trust you.”
He didn’t lie back submissively. Instead, he kissed me once, twice, before leaning over and offering me his neck. Lifting my head was a challenge, but my fangs popped out, making up the distance. I didn’t want to hurt him more than necessary, so I kissed his neck. Licked it to prepare for the sting. He moaned softy—whether he enjoyed the sensation or was simply anxious for me to begin, I didn’t know. Regardless, I finally scraped over the spot, a little scratch to warn him. And then, quickly, I thrust into his vein.
His whole body tensed. Blood hit my tongue with the flavor of cloves and honey.
Adam’s throat muscles worked, pumping the blood into my mouth even faster. I swallowed greedily. The blood soothed my stinging throat and eased the pounding in my head. But I wasn’t content to just take from him.
My palm found his sex. I stroked him in time with my swallows. He groaned and his hand found my hair, pressing my face harder to his throat.
It didn’t take long until his body stiffened. I hadn’t taken more than a pint, but it was enough. He sucked air through his teeth and bucked his hips. I gave one last hard pull on his vein. Wetness covered my hand. Blood surged into my mouth.
He went limp and I let my fangs slowly slide from his skin. My arms curled around his back, holding him to my breast.
Adam’s blood sizzled through my veins, like a shot of adrenaline. My cells knit themselves back together and my thoughts became clear and sharp.
The mancy shifted and lifted his head from my chest. I tensed for his reaction. Would he regret letting me feed from him? But when he looked at me, a lazy smile lifted the corner of his lips. “Well, now…”
I licked my lips to capture every drop before kissing him. His tongue delved in farther. If the taste of his own blood bothered him, he didn’t show it. When he finally pulled away, we both let out long, contented breaths.
“Thank you,” I whispered. “I love you.”
“I love you, too. All of you.”
A surge of warmth flooded my chest and mixed his blood in my veins. The cocktail was potent and made me want him all over again, but I knew that even though I felt strong, Adam needed time to recover from the minor blood loss. So instead of attacking him, I pulled him closer.
He nestled between my breasts with a contented sigh. “See there, things are already looking up.”
“What do you mean?”
“You told Erron we were in the market for some miracles, right?”
I nodded slowly, not following his logic.
Adam wove his fingers with mine and kissed my knuckles. “The fact we’re still together after everything is miracle number one.”
I huffed out a laugh. When he said “everything,” he was referring to some pretty weighty shit: Me sleeping with another male and lying about it, Adam pressuring me to leave my vampire side behind and embrace mage life fully, and the father of the vampire race using my sister to try killing Adam for the crime of loving me. So, yeah, I guess he was right. If we could make this work despite all the odds stacked against us and our own emotional bullshit to contend with, I suppose we did count as a miracle.
“Okay, then, one miracle down.” I blew out a breath and rolled into Adam’s warm chest. “Let’s just hope the gods are feeling generous because we’re gonna need several more if we’re going to defeat Cain.”
Adam ran a thumb down my cheek. “If they’re not, we’ll just have to make some miracles of our own.”
The sun burned like a demon in the eastern sky. Its evil rays came through the shop’s windows like laser beams. After the infusion of Adam’s blood the night before, I felt pretty freaking fantastic, but I didn’t want to waste his blood fighting the UV damage. So I wore dark sunglasses, jeans, boots, and my leather jacket.
It was two minutes until ten. I sat on the counter chugging coffee while Zen and Brooks made final touches on the amulets and Giguhl and Adam double-checked supplies. I blew across the top of my cup and tried to not look concerned that Erron had yet to show.
“Red, you’re not fooling anyone.”
I looked up at the demon. “What?”
“Please, if you keep glaring at that door, you’re going to burn a hole through it.”
My shoulders slumped. “Are you telling me I’m the only one who is worried Erron might skip out on us?”
“Yes,” Adam said. “He still has a couple of minutes.”
“We said we were leaving at ten. He should have already been here.”
“There are any number of possible explanations for his lateness.”
“Right, like he skipped town—”
The front door burst open, causing the bell overhead to ring frantically. A dark figure rushed in with the bright sun at its back.
I slowly set the mug down and rose. “Erron?”
The being had some sort of tarp draped over its body and wore a ski mask with sunglasses over the eyeholes. Leather gloves hid the skin of its hands. Everyone in the room tensed.
“Well don’t just stand there,” a muffled female voice yelled. “Close the blinds!”
I jerked in surprise. “Georgia?”
“Not for long if you don’t make it dark in here!”
I nodded at the others. “Do it!”
Giguhl, Brooks, Zen, and Adam rushed to close the wooden blinds and pull down the shade that covered the window on the door. Finally, the room was dark enough to be safe for the vampire. She pulled the ski mask off with a gasp. “Good gods, that sucked.”
“What the hell are you doing traipsing around in the daylight like a damned fool?” Brooks demanded.
Georgia threw the tarp to the ground and pointed an accusing finger at me. “I need to give Sabina a piece of my mind!”
I crossed my arms and sighed. “Here we go. What’d I do now?”
She waved the envelope I’d left on her door around like a smoking gun. “If this is some sort of sick joke, I really don’t appreciate it.”
I tilted my head and frowned at her. “What? I told you, Mac asked me to bring it to you. You’re welcome, by the way.”
“Bullshit! Mac would never be this cruel. It has to be a fake.”
“Georgia, I know you’re hurting,” Adam said. “But think about what you’re saying. Why would Sabina come all the way to New Orleans to deliver a fake letter from Mac?”
The vampire deflated a fraction and her eyes swiveled to take in all of us. Brooks and Zen were watching her with looks bordering on pity. Adam and Giguhl were puffed up, ready to defend me. And me? I watched her with my hands on my hips. We were burning daylight, Erron had yet to show, and we needed to get to Italy ASAP so we’d have the whole night there to make headway in finding Cain.
“Look, Georgia, I don’t know what to tell you. Mac asked me to give you that. I had no idea what was in it. I’m sorry if it upset you—”
“Upset me?” she yelled. “I’m not upset. I’m pissed! How dare she do this?”
I frowned, curious despite my best intentions to stay out of the middle. “What’d she do?”
Georgia was red-faced and sputtering now. She held up the letter. Adam came forward and grabbed it. His eyes scanned the stack of pages for a few moments before widening in shock. “Mac signed the building and the license for Lagniappe over to her.”
I frowned at the vampiress. “Let me get this straight. You’re pissed that Mac ensured you had an income and a place to live? How dare she?” I said with exaggerated indignation.
Georgia threw up her arms. “How am I supposed to hate her now?”
My mouth fell open. “Ah.”
“Ah?” Adam asked. “I don’t follow that logic at all.”
But I did. People always say anger is the strongest emotion. They’re wrong. Anger is the easiest emotion, the least complex. When other feelings are too difficult to bear, you can wrap anger around you like insulation. Like a shield to deflect more complicated and hurtful emotions—like sadness and fear.
I sighed and stepped toward Georgia. “She loved you in her own way, Georgia. It wasn’t the love you needed, but it was love. This is her way of proving that.”
“Fuck that,” she said. “I’m putting the building on the market ASAP.”
“Like hell you will,” Brooks said. His hands were on his hips and his head was swiveling with attitude. “You can’t put all those proud queens out on the street!” he said, referring to the drag queen corps who lived and worked in that building. Since Brooks was also employed by the club, he had a personal stake in Georgia accepting Mac’s gift.
“Besides, where are you going to go, baby girl?” Zen said, in full maternal mode. “That building is your home, too.”
Georgia’s lip trembled. “I don’t know! It’s just too hard.”
“So give yourself some time. A month, three. Whatever,” Zen said.
Brooks added, “Yeah, girl, don’t throw away this gift just because it’s easier than working through your shit.”
Georgia wrapped her arms around herself protectively. Her expression was abashed, like she finally realized she’d been making a scene. “I’m sorry. I just… it was a shock.”
Giguhl put his arm around the vampire. “Don’t worry. Love makes fools of everyone.”
The vampire blinked at the unexpected depth of the demon’s statement. “I guess you’re right. I just wish it didn’t hurt so much.”
“Trust me, it passes.”
“You sound like you speak from experience.”
The demon looked into the middle distance. “Even us badass demons aren’t immune to heartbreak, Georgia.”
I rolled my eyes. It’s not that I didn’t feel for Georgia or that I didn’t remember how hurt Giguhl had been when his demon girlfriend dumped him, but with each passing minute I was growing more and more aware of Erron’s absence.
“Look,” I said, “I know this has been rough on you. But Zen’s right—give yourself some time.”
“I guess you’re right. Thanks, guys.” Georgia sighed. Then she looked around and noticed the supplies and baggage littering the story. “What are you guys doing?”
“We’re going to Italy!” Giguhl said excitedly.
“Sabina mentioned you were leaving. Vacation?”
“Hardly. We need to see a mage about murdering the father of the Lilim,” Adam said, using the ancient term for the vampire race.
Georgia’s mouth fell open. “Cain? Jesus. What the hell happened after I left New York?”
“Well,” Giguhl began, looking ready to settle in for a long gossip session. While he filled Georgia in, I pulled Adam aside.
Excerpted from Blue-Blooded Vamp by Wells, Jaye Copyright © 2012 by Wells, Jaye. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.